Q & A with Don Jose Maria Lopez, Habanos S.A. Strategic Marketing Director


4/02/2013

A few days ago, the first stretch of the alliance between Habanos and Rioja denominations of origin was held in Spain. On its objectives and perspectives, we sat down with Don Jose Maria Lopez, Habanos S.A. Strategic Marketing Director.

How did the idea of organizing this alliance between Habanos and Rioja come up?

Every year Habanos S.A. plans an alliance between Habanos P.D.O. and any other denomination of origin invited to the annual festival, especially spirits and wines.

In all previous editions, we’ve organized alliances with Scotch whisky, French Armagnac, Mexico’s tequila, Oporto –Portugal’s sweet wines. Yet we’d never planned an alliance with natural-fermented wines.

The reason behind the Rioja selection has to do with a number of things. First of all, because of the historic ties between Spain and Cuba, the latter represented, among other products and in this particular case, by Habano cigars.

That’s why we’ve found a Spanish denomination of origin with similar history and tradition, also bearing in mind that they had never attended a festival before.

In the realm of denominations of origin out of Spain, Rioja is no doubt very much like Habano in terms of international hype and recognition, top quality, tradition, history and culture of a product very similar to Habano. Both follow natural processes as far as product manufacturing and treatment are concerned, abiding by very particular communication codes. All this much prompted us to invite the Rioja Regulatory Council to be a part of this alliance.

Does that mean that for the first time there’ll be an alliance between Habanos and a wine?

That’s correct. For the first time there’s an alliance of Habanos and natural-fermented wines.

This idea caught on greatly from the word go, because the Rioja cellars thought it was an extraordinarily good idea as it recognizes the similarities in terms of craftsmanship and product quality. That explains why the idea got such a tremendous acclaim.

How many cellar signed up? What Habanos is the alliance going to be with?

As many as 37 Rioja cellars signed up for the tasting session, broken down in two categories in which bottles are paired in the blind with two habanos, also in the blind, so you can’t tell them apart till the very end.

However, we do know we’re puffing on a habano whose taste is in the mild-to-smooth neighborhood, while the other one is in the mild-to-strong niche.

It’s important to point out that this is not about judging the wine or the habano all by themselves, but the combination of the two of them. 

We’ve already conducted the preliminary tasting in which 37 cellars were trimmed down to only half a dozen in each category. The second and third stretches of this alliance will unfold during the course of the Habano Festival in Cuba.

There’ll be an elimination round in which only two cellars in each category will qualify for the grand finale with two Habanos, one in each tasting niche. At the end, two Rioja wines that better pair with the habanos will be chosen.

Did participants know what habanos they were going to puff on?

The habanos were only revealed at the end of the tasting session because the preliminary contest had to be in the blind. We only knew they were two piramide vitolas because they had to come from the same factory vitola, one tasting mild to smooth and the second one tasting mild to strong.

What perspectives is Habanos S.A. building on this Rioja alliance?

We have seen that this alliance between two denominations of origin, such as Rioja and Habanos, has made many heads turn around, and a good case in point is the presence of mass media organizations in the preliminary round.

Another highlight is the positive response coming from all Rioja wine cellars. I mean, we already know that this alliance is going to be a smash hit and that this brotherhood between Habanos and Rioja will be sealed. Nonetheless, Habanos S.A. will continue forging other alliances with different denominations of origin in coming festivals.